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Legislators Request Information on Plans to Capture El Niño-Related Precipitation

On October 22, 2015, 14 Republican Congress members from California sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and California Governor Jerry Brown asking how federal and state agencies plan to capture the El Niño-related precipitation that is expected to come this winter. The legislators want to use the projected above-average level of precipitation to alleviate the current drought conditions, especially in the state, and they request “all necessary steps” be taken to capture, store, and move water in the event El Niño-related precipitation materializes this winter.

The letter cites the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) prediction that the current El Niño has a 95% chance of continuing through this winter, and it could be a strong one. In addition, data from the Climate Prediction Center of the NOAA shows the chance of receiving normal or above normal precipitation is 66% for northern California and 93% for the rest of the state, and that the peak will likely occur in the first quarter of 2016.

The legislators argue that federal and state environmental policies and regulations have impeded preparation for the current drought by preventing the capture of water for human use and consumption. They ask a set of planning questions aimed at developing legislation to maximize the use of El Niño-related precipitation:

  • – What actions are already being taken?
  • – What plans do federal or state agencies have to capture El Niño-related precipitation?
  • – If no plans are in place, what is the timeline for development and implementation of such plans?
  • – How do they intend to overcome regulatory impediments?

In asking the question about regulatory impediments, the legislators cite environmental regulations that limit exports through the Delta in order to protect fish species.

California Natural Resources Agency spokesman Nancy Vogel says infrastructure is the more likely constraint. “If we do see heavy precipitation like that of the winters of 1982-83 or 1997, the capacity of the federal and state water projects—not water quality or environmental regulations—is likely to be the limiting factor on how much water is moved into storage,” Vogel told the Los Angeles Times.


Written by Stratecon Staff and Marta L. Weismann